Rev. Sharpton On Report Calling Him FBI Informant: 'I Was Not And Am Not A Rat'
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The Rev. Al Sharpton on Tuesday addressed his long-known role in assisting a joint FBI-NYPD investigation in the 1980s.
As CBS 2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported Tuesday, Sharpton said he did work with the FBI, but took umbrage at characterizations of him as a "rat."
But others said Sharpton's secret life was not by choice.
Michelle Obama may not have known that one of the guests at her recent White House birthday party worked with the FBI to help bring down members of the Genovese crime family – one of five historic organized crime families in New York City, Kramer reported.
Sharpton, now a confidant of both the First Lady and President Barack Obama – and of Mayor Bill de Blasio – had his own unique take on his days as the government's "Confidential Informant No. 7."
"In my own mind, I was not an informant," Sharpton said at a Tuesday news conference. "I was cooperating with investigations."
He defended all his work with the FBI.
"I've done a lot of things in life – some that if I could do again I would do differently," Sharpton said. "But in this situation, I did what was right."
Kramer reported the revelations could embarrass Sharpton as he kicks off his National Action Network convention this week, with Mayor de Blasio and President Obama as the headliners.
But de Blasio, who has called Sharpton "family," is sticking by his buddy.
"It doesn't change the relationship one bit," Mayor de Blasio said. "I'm very proud to be his friend. I think he has done a lot of good for the city of New York and this country. I have the exact same positive view of him I did before."
Sources said the mayor will cut the ribbon on Wednesday at the start of the three-day convention.
There is also the issue of how he became an informant. Some said he was pressured into it after he was caught in a drug sting.
An HBO undercover sting video that aired in 2002 showed Sharpton with a cowboy hat pulled down over his bouffant hairdo. Sharpton appeared to nod when an agent offered him a cut from future drug sales.
But Sharpton said he was first threatened by "music industry goons" years ago and went to the government for protection.
"They were threatening to kill me," Sharpton said. "I did the right thing and would do it again."
Rev. Al Sharpton Responds To Smoking Gun Report Calling Him FBI Informant
He said his role was never as a "rat."
"Rats are usually people that were with other rats. I was not and am not a rat, because I wasn't with the rats. I'm a cat. I chased rats," Sharpton.
Sharpton has been dogged for years about claims that he was an FBI informant, helping the government go after boxing promoter Don King and music executives.
But the Smoking Gun website said Monday that it obtained hundreds of pages of secret court filings and FBI memos providing new details about Sharpton's relationship with the feds.
Rev. Al Sharpton On Report Calling Him FBI Informant: 'I Was Not And Am Not A Rat'
The report shows Sharpton's work as "Confidential Informant No. 7" helped develop cases on the Genovese crime family, including Vincent "The Chin" Gigante, the so-called "Odd Father" known for walking around in a bathrobe and pajamas, CBS 2's Kramer reported.
The report said Sharpton acted as a confidential informant and secretly recorded conversations with the mob by using a bugged briefcase.
When asked if he wore a wire to record the conversations, Sharpton replied, "The conversations were recorded."
Sharpton said he cooperated with the FBI, but repeated that he didn't consider himself an informant.
On Monday, he told WCBS 880's Rich Lamb that the story exaggerates his role and that he only asked the FBI to investigate the crime family after receiving threats.
The FBI "came in 1982, '83, after Don King tried to entrap me in a drug deal that didn't work," Sharpton said. "Then seven months later, when I was threatened by members of the mob because I was saying that a lot of concerts should be going to black artists, and I went after them. I was threatened. I called these FBI guys back, since some of the guys were from California, and told them these are the kind of things they ought to be investigating."
He said of The Smoking Gun: "They know that President Obama is speaking at my convention this week and (U.S. Attorney General) Eric Holder is speaking, and they're just trying to get some attention, because at the end of the day, I'm not accused of committing a crime. So are you saying it's scandalous for me to help the good guys? It's crazy."
Retired NYPD detective sergeant and John Jay College Professor Joseph Giacalone told CBS 2's Dave Carlin that no one in law enforcement should be happy to see any confidential informant unmasked.
"You never want this, because we need people to cooperate to build cases against the bigger part of the enterprise, so this is unfortunate incident that his name actually comes out," Giacalone said.
For Sharpton's part, he said he is used to the attacks and the distortions, Murnane reported. His lawyers are now reviewing the documents posted on The Smoking Gun.
Sharpton also said his only embarrassment about the report is that the website posted photos of him when he weighed more.
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"Because a lot of my younger members didn't know how fat I was," Sharpton said.
And while the feds said Sharpton's information helped bring down career criminals such as Gigante, Sharpton said he did not know how his information was used.
"I have never met any of these guys," Sharpton said. "The guy in the pajamas -- I don't walk around with guys like that."
Former Genovese family boss Gigante, who feigned mental illness for decades to escape prosecution, was finally arrested in 1990 and convicted in 1997 on racketeering and conspiracy charges. He pleaded guilty in 2003 to additional charges that he kept running the Genovese family from prison, and died two years later.
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